REPUBLIC DAY: Sun & Shade By Bikram Vohra

Children rehearsing for the Republic Day parade in India

Come January 26th 1.2 billion people will celebrate the 66th anniversary of having become a sovereign state. Like the curate’s  egg, good and part in parts the year has been divisive in its texture and given us considerable concerns for the future….writes Bikram Vohra

Children rehearsing for the Republic Day parade in India
Children rehearsing for the Republic Day parade in India

The power of media to turn perceptions into truths and generate rage, suspicion and contribute to the manipulation of public opinion on issues great and small marked the past twelve months. Tolerance or its absence was the crayon we chose for the most part of the year and crossed from one month to another on a rickety rope over-bridges which comprised  half kept promises and better days ahead. The weakening of the rupee only underscored the doubts that the economic sun was hot on full flare.

High profile murder investigations, a politically exploited suicide, acts of terror and the soaring price line marked 2015 as a year where nothing much got done, in either the country or, ironically,  its parliament.

India has to look back and ensure that 2016 does not replicate the sludgy motions of the past.

A nation moved by its own hypocrisy where the rights of women are concerned. The year will be most remembered for the reckoning and the call to face the not so funny mirror and learn the cruel truth. Nothing has demanded so much action and so much reaction from the political and bureaucrat cabals that rule this land than the attacks on women and children. And the ripple effect of that cruelty. The nation’s capital is still the rape capital of the world and there is nothing edifying in that label.

Narendra Modi with the President of France, Mr. Francois Hollande, at Nek Chand Rock Garden, in Chandigarh
Narendra Modi with the President of France, Mr. Francois Hollande, at Nek Chand Rock Garden, in Chandigarh

If that was the defining point of our social structure combined with the surrogate governance from India’s raucous and intemperate TV channels then its equivalent in the political spectrum was the rule  by the Aam Aadmi party and the unholy relations it has with the Centre and the Lt Governor, thereby crippling its efficiency to the point of contempt. Handed the golden egg by the people’s mandate, Mr Arvind Kejriwal has marked 2015 with a branding of his own. Regrettably, with every passing day he has scrambled, poached and fried that egg into a pancake of disappointment with only diehard supporters who believe that the protest and the aggression are the only ways to get attention left to root for him. Never has India seen such an awesome revolution break its wheel so speedily and lose its way while still pretending to be a chariot on fire.

With the price index rising, the employment rate stagnant and the political will not shored by the promised sense of commitment anvil, India stands as a superpower seeking a benediction and a leadership it believed it had. As its state governments engage in petty battles at the federal level the confusion is even more a cause for concern. The fight against corruption that became a clarion call sank to a whisper in the nation. The better days stay elusive.

Not many battles were won against the common enemies of mankind: disease, poverty, unemployment and hunger.

For the NRI the mantle of responsibility and duty does not rest lightly.

Today, there are 32 million Indian living abroad on every continent and impacting upon the world, serving as a conduit for the best of Indian arts and sciences. From Indian frontliners in Silicon Valley to medical practitioners in Europe to business tycoons in the Gulf and Hong Kong, from Wall Street analysts to international beauty queens Indian acumen and expertise have become marketable commodities.

Indian music has made its mark on the world’s stage. Indian food is a cultural given. Indian fashion now competes at the level of haute couture even as Indian fabrics are in demand in both the East and the West. Indian novelists writing in English have hit the literary scene with force. Indian professionalism in media, law, accountancy and engineering and information technology has formed a swathe and Indian business knowhow works on the cutting edge.

Children rehearsing for the Republic Day Parade
Children rehearsing for the Republic Day Parade

Let it not be forgotten that Indian labour translates many of these concepts and ideas into reality and it is the sweat and the sagacity that combine to make the Indian diaspora so powerful and so vital in the modern context. These 32 million Indians may live in scattered fragments in a hundred countries but they have never forgotten their roots and on every such anniversary it seems as if the geographical distance is mentally bridged and the sense of togetherness which prevails salutes the billion at home and their  congregation of brothers and sisters out in the world.

Perhaps this is the dawning of the glorious age for the country and its people.

Other influences from India also permeate the world. In Britain Indian takeaway foods have beaten the traditional Chinese cuisine. Indian TV channels are popular in the USA and the footprint gets larger all the time. Indian clothes, shoes, jewellery, accessories are globally popular. Indian music has hit an all time high in universal acceptance. Indian stars have bounced into Hollywood and Indian films are celluloid ambassadors.

Above all, the Indian intellect has earned the seal of approval in across the spectrum disciplines. Coupled with the lowest ethnic crime record in the world, this makes the Indian community highly welcome as a creative and contributory force. What we can do for other countries we must do for India.

That is the crux and one where we are often found wanting.

Over the years, innate honesty and the inbred acceptance of hierarchical authority often misinterpreted in modern times as weakness rather than a Teutonic fondness for order, gave Indians a leading edge. They moved swiftly up the ladder, excelling in organising business, in bargaining with logic and steadfastness and always ensuring that they did not cheat their employer. In these formative centuries of the Indian diaspora, the Indian stamina for mental exercise became a hallmark of the community’s worth and its favoured status. Indians meant good output and minimum hassle.

These traits have endured the test of time. By that token the Indian’s unquenchable desire to identify with the home country has never diminished. Even tenth generation immigrants maintain the same values and traditions as does the home country, often with more fervour and commitment.

I am reminded here of the famous lines of poetry:

Breathes there a man with souls so dead

Who never to himself has said,

This is my own, “my native land.”

In the poem he retraces his footsteps back to the land of his forefathers.

India Flag General BharatWe too, as Indians abroad, engage in a continual effort to hark back to our roots, to be one again with the mother country. India’s triumphs bring joy to our hearts, India’s pain echoes within us. This need to be one with our roots has been at the core of the Indian global movement. And we have succeeded admirably. Our habits, our food, our festivals, our prayers invoke the priorities that have survived centuries and the richness of that tapestry is the worldwide legacy we have given to our children as they prepare take over the baton.

Yes, we will have our parade and our rulers will serve us sermons and soda water and when our icons march down that strip of Rajpath and the tricolour flies proudly we will feel the choke of high emotion and try to clutch at the good things and believe as fervently as we can that things will get better but will they?

The cost of living is into orbit, the pre-celebration week is clouded by the tension of an enemy at the gate, the newspapers are smeared with crime reports, the system per se has become rickety and unstable, corruption has survived and there is a sense of deep almost tangible resignation that the more things change the more they are going to stay the same.

I have never been a gloom merchant nor have I ever advocated defeatism. But, for the first time, there is in the air a certain uncertainty, a feeling of bobbing like a cork on the water, a vulnerability in the national psyche, as if someone had rudely pulled off the band aid and revealed a scar that disfigures our image as we see ourselves.

Agreed, we have immense potential in our youth, our global diaspora is inspiring, our sportsmen toil against great odds and give us slivers of sunshine, we excel in the arts and sciences, our collective intellect and our knowledge of the world is unparalleled, our armed forces still spark a flare of patriotic fervour, our entrepreneurs and captains of industry have proven their mettle, we manage to battle adversity, still largely maintain the traditions of the family unit and love our children even as we watch them grow out of hand.

That said, the feeling of discomfort, like a burr under the saddle, won’t go away. Which makes it difficult to ride victoriously into the parade.

Have your parade, but protect the republic.

Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi at the alighting point for leaders to receive the heads of delegations, during 3rd India Africa Forum Summit 2015, in New Delhi
Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi at the alighting point for leaders to receive the heads of delegations, during 3rd India Africa Forum Summit 2015, in New Delhi